Ok, buckle in friends as I tell a tale of the day I like to call the longest, fastest day of my life. Out there for hours and hours, but it went by in a blur. I want to recount the specifics; I was, if nothing else, totally present as I became an Ironmother. Some of the bike miles whizzed by, and I'd like to forget some of the run miles, but I competed with a detailed race report in mind. (I needed something to pass the hours and hours, right?) Enjoy! (Or just scan the pics, like you do with People mag at the grocery check-out.)
Pre-race: Thursday and Friday
I arrived via the friendly skies Spokane, Washington with a posse of Denver people on Thursday afternoon. I knew one of the posse had offered to give me a ride to the airport and/or Coeur d'Alene, but I couldn't remember which way and hadn't checked in pre-race. Turns out, Laura, a mother runner and wife of Cole, who was competing on Sunday, offered me a ride back to the airport on Monday. So I had to quickly find a ride to CDA—Grant, my lovely husband, offered to drive my bike 15 hours, and had left at the crack o' on Thursday morning—and hooked up with a shuttle service. I can't say I'm surprised I forgot something so soon into the trip, but thankfully it was minor. And I got an especially chatty driver, which I always love: taste of local culture.
Woke up Friday morning, and honestly, waking up without kids—they were with my mom all weekend—is odd and so quiet. Grant and I weren't entirely sure what to do with ourselves. So we got up, found a bagel and a latte, and headed out to drive the 56-mile bike course which I'd ride twice. The hills seemed long, but relatively gentle; none of the crazy grades I had seen in my last century, where I almost left Lyle, my bike, by the side of the road for good. The course definitely wasn't flat, but I'd trained on hills and at altitude. I was as ready as I could be.
We headed to Target to stock up on groceries (plain bagels, pretzels, oatmeal squares, bread, granola bars, beers...get the carb picture?) and, um, underwear for me. (Yep, another oversight: so far, nothing major.) Ran into Sarah, a mother runner I had dinner with the previous evening, who was buying toys for her just-pottytrained son. I found it very reassuring to realize the world was still turning, despite my Ironmother focus.
Back to the hotel to get my WetZoot and various other necessities: my workout for the day was a 15-minute swim and a 20-minute run. I wanted to check in and check out the water, which had the reputation of being just this side of Arctic.
The water wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. Yes, I had an headache, a la I ate too much ice cream too fast, for the first few minutes of being in the water, but then my body acclimated and I got to focus on the swimming. Which on this Thursday afternoon caused me to freak out. I was fine breathing to my right, my preferred side, but when I telescoped my neck to look up, I drank a bunch of water because the waves were just significant enough to reach my mouth. I did not see things shaping up well on race day, as I prefer to hydrate with nuun, not with lake water.
I decided I'd run from home (read: the Days Inn) and so we headed back to the hotel. Grant, who also brought his bike, headed out for a short ride, and I went for a short run. My legs weren't exactly spritely, but I felt the best I had yet during this taper. My tapers, like my kids who were both two weeks late, like to take their own sweet time to present themselves. I spoke to Bri, my coach, on Saturday morning—about 14 days after I started to taper—and told her I finally felt like my body was ready to rumble.
Grant and I headed to the banquet on Friday night for some overly oiled pasta, really dry rice and rolls. (There was other stuff, but that's what I ate. Oh, and an oatmeal raisin cookie too.) There was inspiration aplenty, as well as some good insight: the largest age groups competing are women and men from 40-44. Good to know I, a perpetual boot-cut jean wearer, am at least trendy in something in my life.
Saturday morning, and I was back in the water. This time, I was alone, as Grant went for 100-mile spin around northern Idaho (a good call, as I was definitely in my own zone). First I took Lyle out to check out his gears, and all was good to go. Phew and excited! Then I parked Lyle by the water, and asked a nice woman named Amy if she wouldn't mind watching my stuff. We got into a conversation about—what else?—Ironman, and I shared my concern about sighting and not drinking half the lake. "You don't need to sight in an Ironman," said a nice Colorado guy who joined in, "There are so many people around." I liked his point; yes, I'd have to turtle up every once in a while, but the 2,699 other athletes might also have an idea of where we were going. That—and a much calmer morning on the lake—eased my nerves.
I didn't sleep well on Friday night, but after a pasta dinner on Saturday and two episodes of Parks and Rec, I was ready to close my eyes at 8:15 or so. I was up a bit to use the bathroom—I had hydrated like a champ—but overall, a decent pre-Ironmother sleep.
Up at about 4:30. Downed a bagel with NuttZo, a banana, and some sports drink; my biggest concern out of the box was getting enough calories in me before the swim so I didn't get that so-hungry nausea I'd felt during previous long swims. I'd packed everything the night before, but my brain didn't really retain that. (And by the way, if nutrition is the 4th discipline in Ironman, organization is the 5th. So.much.stuff.) "Where is my Garmin?" I fretted as soon as Grant pulled away from the hotel. "Oh, in the bottom of my backpack, where I put it last night." Breathe, sister, breathe.
We got to the lake, and I pretty much went into silent, am-I-really-doing-this mode. I guess I was. I went into the bike area to put water bottles and GU's on Lyle, and stood there for about 5 minutes wondering if I should try to pump up Lyle's tires with a borrowed pump, take Lyle to the line where volunteers were filling up tires like a pit crew, or just let him be. I finally arbitrarily pumped up his front tire, which felt not as rock solid as the back. Then I got into the crazy long line to go the bathroom, decided that was a waste of time since my body felt like it was in total clamp-down mode, and went to go find Grant again.
It was tough to stay inside my own head on Sunday morning—and any time I was down at the expo. Everybody else seemed to have a sense of purpose and a plan. Even though I knew I had both of those things, seeing these ridiculously fit bodies in motion made me alway wonder: should I be doing what they're doing? Why does she have so many salt tabs? What's in his bottles? Should I have taped my shoulder like she did? What does that stretch do? I learned, though rowing, that you go fastest when you keep your eyes in your own boat and focus on making your crew go faster, but my restless taper feeling and Ironman virgin status had me totally gazing everywhere but in.
Fortunately, I didn't have much time to stargaze because after I kissed Grant and hugged him in that drapey, extended way I do when I really don't want to confront the task next at hand—and then ran after him once to give him my flip flops, and then again to grab the GU I wanted to take immediately before I swam—I was back in the water. Got my ice cream headache over with (and used my own personal portapotty), then climbed up on shore. The fog was just lifting off the lake, the forecast was for pure perfection, and I was ready to get this party started.
I barged in a conversation with two other women, who I could tell were just talking to each other for the first time: one was a first-timer from Washington, one was from North Carolina, did the same race last year in 12:30-something, and wanted to under 12 hours. I just wanted to connect with people before I spent the rest of the day in my head. "I think I am in complete denial I have to run a marathon later today," I told the first-timer, and she laughed and agreed. I got quiet during the National Anthem, and teary when Human by The Killers came on. Close your eyes, clear your heart, cut the cord. Sounds like a game plan.
This was the first Ironman to use a rolling swim start, which meant instead of firing one cannon, after which 2,700 athletes started flailing around in the water, we'd seed ourselves on our swim times, and roll across the starting mat, which would start our race time, and roll into the water. I may be marking myself as a non-Ironman purist, but I loved this process. Instead of an explosion at an unexpected time jolting my heart rate to 160 and tons of limbs churning around me, I got to walk slowly towards the shore, take a deep breath, run in with a few people around me, and find my groove.
The swim course was two laps of a rectangle; you swim one lap, come out quickly on the shore, then head back in. Swimming the long sides was pretty uneventful. Sometimes I had a little collision with a fellow athlete, but for the most part, I had the space I covet. (And the sighting wasn't a problem: the lake was calm, there were plenty of people about, and I was swimming straight out or back.) The top of the rectangle, though, was chaotic. People wanted to get close to the buoys, so we were just sardined in there. After getting kicked and toppled—and doing the same to others—I switched to my condensed breaststroke to keep my eyes above the water and my stress low. (Not a full frog kick, mind you: I didn't want to impale anybody's kidneys.) I hung one more left, got socked by a big wave (actually really fun), and headed for the shore.
The buoys were pretty close to together, so I always felt like I was making progress. And there were so many kayakers and paddle boarders and other people out there, it seemed like there was always somebody with their eyes on you. I concentrated on stretching out my long limbs, marveled that I saw the sun come out from behind the clouds, and hit the shore in 31:xx, the same time it took me to swim 1.2 in my recent half-Ironman. Rounded the buoy and went out for round two, which was more of the same: space on the sides, cramps up top. Coming down the home stretch, my spine and left shoulder, both of which had not taken kindly to the marshmallow bed I'd been sleeping on for 3 nights, were sick of swimming, so I took 10 strokes for Amelia, then 10 for Ben, then 10 for Grant, 10 for my Mom, 10 for my Dad...10 for others was a pattern I'd call on a couple times during this, the longest, shortest day of my life.
I swam until my paw hit sand, and stood up. 2.4 miles was done. Wow. Done. 1:05:xx, which I later saw put my at 5th in my age group.
During a pre-race talk, Bri, my coach, told me I shouldn't sprint out of the water. "Have you even been coaching me these past few months?" I joked with her, "I do NOT sprint." I didn't even want to waste my energy pulling my wetsuit down to my hips, as many athletes around me were doing. So I walked up to a wetsuit stripper, turned around, stuck my arms out like a scarecrow, and let them completely disrobe me. After they pulled it over my feet, they even helped me back up. Ser-VICE!
Grabbed bike bag 663, headed into the women's changing tent, had one of the many enthusiastic, beyond helpful volunteers I'd meet during the day prepare me for the bike, got slathered up in sunscreen, then went to find my date for the next leg: Lyle.
Quick programming note: because we had to switch website hosts this weekend, you may have noticed our podcast wasn't up on Sunday. We are going to run that tomorrow (Tuesday), so you can have it for a long run over the long holiday weekend. (Disclaimer: You might notice a few repeats between this race report and my podcast race report...that's how these dice roll.) For Wednesday, I'll write part II: the bike and run.